USAF secretary calls for more research and innovation

New Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson says that in addition to pressing readiness and modernization needs, the service must prioritize innovation, research and realigning the cyber workforce.

Shutterstock image: weapons tech design
 

It's no secret that the Air Force is flying low on planes and personnel and faces serious readiness and modernization challenges. But the new USAF secretary said the service also needs to prioritize innovation and research to stay ahead of adversaries.

Making her first public remarks as secretary, Heather Wilson said that first and foremost, the Air Force needs funding predictability and an end to the Budget Control Act that has contributed to the force being one-third smaller than it was during Desert Storm.

While the current and 2018 budgets take steps toward increasing workforce size and the number of aircraft in service, Wilson said the Air Force cannot focus solely on readiness and modernization.

"We're going to have to move faster on a lot of things because our adversaries are innovating faster than we are," Wilson said at a June 5 Air Force Association event in Washington. "We have to get from concept to warfighter faster."

"One of the things that we do increase in this budget is research, development, test and evaluation," she said. "The actual R&D end is pretty flat and has been for several years. One of the things that we do kind of foreshadow in this budget is a desire to increase basic applied research."

Wilson told members of industry in the audience that many current technologies in the Air Force, such as the stealth technology of the F-117, came not from a military requirement, but from innovations in industry.

"Innovation doesn't always come from something the government sets out, it comes from your laboratories," she said.

Wilson also said that the upcoming budget includes funding for a number of cyber priorities, such as the 39 cyber operations teams.

"There's also a number of other upgrades and changes in concepts in how we want to protect ourselves in cyber," she said. "Particularly, probably moving to more routine operations that are done by contractors and training our cyber teams to focus not on whether my computer works this morning, but more on cyber operations for offense and defense."

Wilson pointed out that Air Force cyber operators are tracking and defending against an estimated 40 "malicious attempts or attacks per second on the United States Air Force, so it's a capability that's important."

She said the Air Force is also looking to address vulnerabilities in space technology. "We are doing a number of upgrades this next year to try to secure our ability to operate through our GPS for example, a military mode for GPS to try to make sure that we can be resilient against any cyberattack there."

Wilson is currently the only confirmed service secretary in the Trump administration. The president has nominated two different candidates for Army secretary, and both withdrew from consideration. President Donald Trump's first nominee for Navy secretary, Phillip Bilden, also withdrew, and on June 2, the president announced his intention to nominate Richard Spencer as Navy secretary.

Spencer, a 63-year old Wyoming resident, is an investment banker who spent five years in the Marines after graduating from Rollins College. He served on the Defense Business Board and most recently was managing partner of investment company Fall Creek Management.

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